Jordan Clarkson has had his ups and downs as the Los Angeles Lakers' starting point guard against two Western Conference playoff team's in the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets. A strong performance against the defending champs was undermined by a horrible one against the Rockets. So is the real Clarkson closer to the confident, effective one that faced the Spurs, or the scared, turnover prone Clarkson that was hounded into slinging turnovers all over the court by the Rockets?
All statistics and screenshots from NBA.com
Clarkson's minutes until the last two games have been sporadic, but in his time on the floor it is safe to say he has played at or slightly below expectations over the course of the season. His shot chart for the year paints a picture of the player many expected: A raw rookie guard:
Clarkson has missed the majority of his shots that are not right at the rim. The encouraging part in this red sea of misses is the distribution of his shots. Clarkson is taking 45.2 percent of his shots directly at the rim, using his athleticism and slashing ability to get to the cup for close range buckets. At the very least, the rookie understands his strengths, which is an underrated factor in the success of an NBA player (see Smith, Josh).
Since being promoted to starter, these encouraging percentages have continued:
In a small sample size of only 19 shots, Clarkson has continued to display his aggressiveness in attacking the basket, taking 11 of his shots as a starter there, converting 6 of them. Clarkson has also drawn 3.5 free throws per game since taking over for Ronnie Price, most of which were drawn by getting to the basket. One thing for Clarkson to work on is absorbing contact around the rim rather than slithering around it. As for his jumper, that is obviously a work in progress. It does not look fundamentally broken, so there is hope that with some more work he can improve upon his percentages away from the rim as well.
Here is on example of "Good Clarkson" from the San Antonio game:
He begins by attacking the rim in transition, and even though the team does not have a numbers, he sees an opening at the rim:
After collecting the ball, Clarkson shifts around Tim Duncan and goes straight into poor Matt Bonner's body for the bucket:
While Clarkson also showed some warts against San Antonio, he was mostly under control and stuck to his strengths. Against Patrick Beverley and Houston, "Bad Clarkson" showed up a little bit more, like on this shot:
Here Clarkson attempts a pick-and-roll with Sacre, and quickly has his lane to the rim when Houston's big hedges:
Clarkson missed Sacre in his short window to make the pass, and is forced to pull the ball back out as Beverley hounds him.
Here Clarkson attempts a pick-and-pop with Jordan Hill. Hill does a better job with his screen and Clarkson gains some space:
.... but then is stopped short by two Rockets, allowing Beverley time to recover:
You can almost see Clarkson's brain's loading bar here, as he pulls the ball back out and dribbles while Sacre posts up in futility.
With the shot clock now running down because of the amount of time the possession has taken, Clarkson is forced to hoist a three-pointer as the backboard screams in terror:
Seriously, that shot bricked HARD. It almost broke the backboard, and did hit the unlucky Donatas Motiejunas in the face (Houston's #20, bending over holding his face):
With slightly better decision making (and more talented teammates if we are being honest) there is no reason to believe that these kind of warts cannot be frozen off, allowing Clarkson to blossom into a second-round steal.
Clarkson is neither as bad as his worst performance, or as good (yet) as his best one. All rookies have their ups and downs, but the important thing for Clarkson is getting consistent minutes, as opposed to atrophying on the bench and "learning" how to play point guard from watching the stylings of Price or Jeremy Lin. Clarkson is a blank slate that needs on-court time to develop. The Lakers have nothing to lose, since they are going to lose games anyway.
If Clarkson is ever going to morph into a real contributor for the Lakers, his getting minutes this season while the stakes are low could be a crucial step in that development process. Scott stating that this group of starters will be in place for "the next 10-to-15 games" is a step towards that ideal outcome. And if Clarkson never blossoms? At least fans will always have the memories of Kelly-Clarkson.